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Cello’s Finder Pledges to Donate Reward

Times Staff Writer

The 29-year-old nurse who turned in the $3.5-million Stradivarius cello that was stolen last month said Tuesday that if she received the $50,000 reward, she would give it to charity.

“I definitely want to give back, maybe something to do with music appreciation for kids,” said Melanie Stevens, who said she found the cello three days after it disappeared from the front steps of a Los Angeles Philharmonic musician who forget to bring it inside.

She said she had not heard about the theft until more than a week after she spotted the cello near a dumpster in Silver Lake and put it in the back of her Lexus sport utility vehicle.

The recovery was greeted with jubilance Tuesday by members of the Philharmonic, who had waited anxiously since the April 25 theft, trying to maintain hope that the instrument would be returned.

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“My lowest moment came about three days after the theft when it didn’t come back to us right away,” said Deborah Borda, president of the Philharmonic Assn., which owns the 17th century cello. “If not three days, then it can disappear for 30 years.”

Borda learned Sunday afternoon that a cello had been located in an alley off Fountain Avenue and Griffith Park Boulevard. But she could not view the instrument until the next morning.

“I was up all night,” she said. “We went as early as we could the next morning.... When I saw the case, even without opening it, I knew it was it.”

Officials who gathered at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday afternoon said that while the cello was slightly damaged, they expected it to be repaired in time for the winter season.

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“It’s been an enormous weight on me for the last three weeks,” said Peter Stumpf, the cellist who left the instrument on his Los Feliz doorstep, only to have it stolen by a thief riding a bicycle. “It’s difficult to express how that has felt.”

Stumpf spoke briefly at a news conference at the hall, introduced by Borda as “probably the happiest man in Los Angeles today.”

Police said they had no suspects in the case and were still trying to confirm the story Stevens told of how she found the instrument three days after the theft and kept it until last weekend, when it was turned over to police.

In an interview Tuesday, Stevens, a home healthcare nurse, described the events that led to the return of the cello -- finding it near a dumpster, seeing the television broadcast about the instrument and finding a small piece of paper inside the cello that bore Stradivari’s signature and the date 1684. With that, Stevens and her boyfriend went looking for a lawyer.

“She was concerned that people might not believe her story,” said Ronald N. Hoffman, her attorney.

Det. Don Hrycyk said it could take several months for police to confirm Stevens’ story and turn over the reward.

“If what Ms. Stevens told us is true, then she’d certainly be eligible for the reward,” Hrycyk said. As for apprehending the thief, “it’s a whodunit right now,” he said.

On Monday, violinmaker Robert Cauer examined the instrument for several hours at Parker Center, holding it himself while police dusted it for fingerprints.

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The cello is being stored in a climate-controlled vault at Cauer’s shop. He said the multiple cracks on the top of the cello were unfortunate, but routine as far as damage goes.

“On a Stradivari, everything is repairable,” Cauer said. “I have no worries about the sound and look of the instrument.”


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